PROFILE: Siobhan Kenny, The National Magazine Company - Blair aide opts for mag mecca. Siobhan Kenny takes her No 10 communications acumen to NatMags

Next month Siobhan Kenny will swap the cut and thrust of life at Downing Street’s Strategic Communications Unit for that Soho-based glossy magazine mecca, the National Magazine Company. The obvious question is: why? Despite a first job as information officer at TV-AM back in the days of Anne and Nick, the 36-year-old north Londoner has never strayed far from the civil service.

Next month Siobhan Kenny will swap the cut and thrust of life at

Downing Street’s Strategic Communications Unit for that Soho-based

glossy magazine mecca, the National Magazine Company. The obvious

question is: why? Despite a first job as information officer at TV-AM

back in the days of Anne and Nick, the 36-year-old north Londoner has

never strayed far from the civil service.



As a vital cog in the No 10 communications machine, she is more

manifesto than magazine material. After TV-AM came press officer posts

at Scotland Yard and the Home Office. Armed with a language degree,

Kenny then took off to Strasbourg as senior press officer for the

Council of Europe, the human rights organisation which set up the

European Court of Human Rights.



A year later, in 1993, she joined Downing Street’s press office, where

she witnessed the historical change-over from Conservative to

Labour.



’It was one of the most exciting jobs I could have had at the time,’

remembers Kenny. ’A day like that only happens once in your life.’ Under

Alastair Campbell’s wing, she helped build the Strategic Communications

Unit, a department designed to improve the co-ordination and

presentation of Government policies. Her colleague of four years, deputy

press secretary Godric Smith, describes her working style as action

personified: ’Siobhan has an engaging personality but a ruthless focus

on delivery,’ he says.



’She doesn’t just talk, she does. She revolutionised our communications

with the non-news media.’



And this is where the move to the National Magazine Company starts to

make sense. Eighteen months ago Kenny had the idea of involving women’s

magazines in Government policies. She set up a central contact point for

editors to call people within the communications unit who understood

their audiences and deadlines - a first for No 10. ’The Government had

not always looked at telling its own story to the majority of people its

policies affect,’ she explains.



Kenny invited a host of editors from magazines as diverse as Take a

Break and Vogue to attend a Q&A session with drug czar Keith Hallawell

and Tony Blair.



Another venture saw editors from teen magazines like J17 discuss a

report by the Government’s Social Exclusion Unit on 16- to 18-year-olds

who leave school early with few prospects. Aside from gaining valuable

input from editors and a pile of cuttings ’up to my neck’, Kenny made

stacks of contacts and a few friends. She says it was ’inevitable’ she

would jump ship to magazine publishing.



’I enjoyed working with the editors so much I thought I could slide in

there,’ she says. ’I know a lot of NatMags’ editors already, which is

half the battle.’ Kenny is unsure of her exact aims when she arrives,

but one thing she definitely wants to do is to push forward the editors

of NatMags’ 12 titles including Harpers & Queen, Cosmopolitan and Good

Housekeeping as spokespeople on issues affecting their readers and

maintain links with the Government.



NatMags managing director Terry Mansfield acknowledges her new job will

be ’entirely different’ to Number 10 but explains that one of his

editors sung her praises so loudly he had to listen. ’The communications

director has to understand what the story is from the journalist’s point

of view rather than pushing out PR puff and Siobhan has that

understanding,’ he says.



Terry Tavner, editor of IPC’s Woman’s Own agrees. Tavner met Kenny when

she took her to meet Hallawell and a heroin addict for an article she

was writing on drugs. ’Siobhan has a fantastic understanding of women’s

magazines,’ she says.



’Her background is making stories work, albeit Government ones. She has

a nose for what is great PR. She can spot a story and knows how to place

it. She has great contacts on newspapers, good people skills and is

completely unflappable. Best of all, Siobhan makes things happen. I

think it’s an inspired appointment.’



HIGHLIGHTS



1992: Senior press officer, Council of Europe



1993: Senior press officer, Downing Street



1998: Strategic adviser, Strategic Communications Unit



1999: Communications director, National Magazine Company.



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